Monday, April 8, 2013

Does President Obama's faux pas expose how men fail to understand issues related to women in the work place?

I kept fueling the flame in wait of a man’s response.  It never came.  Not one man had the guts to share thoughts related to President Barack Obama’s major faux pas from last week.

Speaking at a fundraiser in a wealthy San Francisco suburb, President Obama praised the looks of California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake,” Obama said. “She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general in the country.”

“It’s true! C’mon,” he added, to laughter from the crowd.
It was an offensive comment that opened old wounds among women who fight to be recognized for more than their looks.  I could hear the collective “no he didn’t” screaming like Big Mama ready to take a chunk out of Baby Boy’s backside. 
Women are hurt by Obama’s insensitivity to the battles they continue to fight on the workplace.

So, I put it to the test.  I wanted to know if men cared enough to respond to comments I made that gave justification for Obama’s wink at Harris.  I was interested to see if they would rally for a man’s right to flirt on the workplace. I was even more interested to see if a man would rally in support of a woman’s right not to be pigeonholed by their looks.
I tested my thesis on Facebook.

“Well, he told the truth, nothing but the truth....He also mentioned her other attributes. My take, there's nothing wrong with complimenting a person.”

Not one man took the bait.  Not one.  The lack of conversation regarding this topic speaks volumes involving the continuing disconnect between women’s rights and the men who are too self-consumed to care enough to engage.  The tough lessons about gender bias are critical for those women who continue to grapple to find place in a world dominated by white men.  Yes, there is still a glass ceiling in corporate America.

The term glass ceiling was first used by two women at Hewlett-Packard in 1979.  Katherine Lawrence and Marianne Schreiber used it to describe the point in which women were unable to move beyond in their pursuit of promotion. Obama’s comments were distasteful due to how the underlying assumptions feed into notions of legitimacy regarding women in the workplace. 

I posted comments on Facebook in an effort to force a comprehensive dialogue regarding what made Obama’s comments inappropriate.  I hoped to stir an even deeper discussion in hope that both men and women would gain a better understanding related to what is happening in the sanctioning of worth in the workplace.
The women went at it.  I knew they would.  Some defended Obama.  Most chastised him for mentioning a woman’s looks in a public setting.  I knew they would.

Not a word from the men.

So, what is wrong with what Obama said?
Obama’s comments are wrong due to how they affirm the correlation between attractiveness and merit.  Although he was able to speak to Harris’s credentials, the mention of her looks served to further validate her as a woman befitting of the role she holds as California’s Attorney General.  The mention of looks within a public context upraises already existing assumptions about what it takes to make it in a world dominated by white males.

The mere mention of her looks triggered that age old battle.  For most men, it’s no big deal.  Others are enlightened enough to see how we have been molded to think looks and productivity are one in the same. They aren’t.  It takes tremendous effort to abolish the willingness to overlook highly competent people due to looks.  Looks make a difference in who gets the job, and who doesn’t.  Given men make most decisions, it’s safe to say there are scores of talented women devoid of opportunity because of a man’s definition of beauty.
No men responded. 

I took a few stabs to set the table for a deeper discussion.  What are the lessons?  Maybe its men don’t care enough to discuss how looks determine their decision. Maybe they didn’t get the memo that day. 

Who knows?
One thing is clear.  The battle between the sexes is far from being over.  As a man, forgive me for not listening.  Forgive me for what I fail to understand.

The good news is I care enough to hear your struggles.
You can’t get there if you refuse to listen.

Listen, can you hear the crickets?


  1. All just a bogus attempt to get her name out there... Nothing more....

  2. I think this is much to do about nothing. Given the full context of his statement, I find nothing offensive about it. Five years ago, the world was abuzz about the looks of Sarah Palin. I don't recall the press being outaged because of it. In fact, I think it was rather embraced. I would much rather have stories about why it's the President hanging out in California with billionaires, rather than in Washington fixing the economy.

  3. The surveys show that looks count whether you're a guy or a gal: Height (tall is good), weight (thin), physique (fit is better), hair (blond/e is best), clothing (according to the career). The only things guys get a pass on are wrinkles and gray hair, and even those are starting to become issues.

  4. Yes sexism can raise its ugly head, even unintentionally, among even some of the most enlightened.......And yes society has a whole does pay often times more attention to the outward qualities versus the interior.....

  5. I don't see anything wrong with the President's statements. He acknowledged Ms. Harris' accomplishments and said that she was a good looking lady. He wasn't lying either. She's a fine sister. I'm a guy and I just don't get it. Who doesn't like a compliment. I think this is just one more example of how this President is being treated differently from the others. Why are we so eager to create an uproar over sexism or precieved sexism but we dodge issues of racial injustice and economic deprivations like a game of dodge ball. Get real people.